von Ben Kamis
Autobiographical note: I spend about two and a half hours nearly every workday in trains or train stations on my commute to enjoy the company of the other contributors to this blog and some other esteemed colleagues. My point isn’t to highlight my own martyrdom, though I appreciate your sympathy, just that I have a lot of time to observe how very careful people, i.e. German professionals, deal with very dangerous activities, like waiting next to, climbing aboard, and standing in steel vehicles weighing several hundred tons and moving very fast as well as the perilous rudeness of their peers.
One of the things that’s often puzzled me is that, in addition to the normal Schaffner who check tickets, there is also a large contingent of railroad personnel who wear dark blue uniforms, military-style berets, Batman-style utility belts with gloves and pepper spray and the other implements of semi-official coercion, and on their backs there is a large red stripe with white lettering that reads “DB-Sicherheit”. DB, of course, stands for Deutsche Bahn, the mostly state-owned railroad enterprise, and I always translated ‘Sicherheit’ to what I always considered to be its English equivalent, ‘security’. This inference usually makes sense because many of these DB-Sicherheit personnel are well-built young men who look like Russian bouncers, and their job seems to consist of ferreting out winos, troublemakers, and Schwarzfahrer (freeriders, literally but romantically, ‘black riders’) from DB trains and stations. Many of the DB-Sicherheit personnel, however, are still patrolling the platforms with the arthritic gait of proto-pensioners and the girth you’d only expect to see in upper management. After seeing several dozen such Bahn employees who look more likely to suffer a coronary than manhandle an aggressive drunk, I began to question what kind of Sicherheit/security was really being provided here.